Dear Abby: I can't stand my 10-year-old daughter. I was an 18-year-old single mother when she was born. I find her annoying. Everyone tells me how "sweet" and "pretty" she is, but I can't see it. I dread when she comes home from school. I am not physically abusive to her. But I can be verbally abusive, and I know I need to stop. She just makes me so mad.
I am now married with two more kids (boys), and I adore them. What's wrong with me? How can I fix this? I have no spiritual adviser, and I can't afford a professional counselor.
-- Anonymous in Washington State
Dear Anonymous: The circumstances of your daughter's birth were very different from those of your sons. When you look at her, you may be reminded of a chapter in your life you would prefer to forget. How sad for both of you. The way you treat her, particularly in relation to her half-brothers -- will affect the way she perceives herself for the rest of her life. People whose parents treat them as unlovable often regard themselves as not "measuring up," and it can cause self-esteem problems that last a lifetime.
Ordinarily, I would encourage you to seek low-cost therapy through your county department of mental health. If that isn't possible, then I advise you to hold your tongue, control your temper and compel yourself to show your daughter approval and affection every day until it becomes a habit or she's old enough to leave.
Responding to tragic news
Dear Abby: I recently reconnected with an old friend I hadn't seen in about four years. The last time I saw her she was pregnant. I asked about her baby, and she informed me that he had died a few months after his birth. What is the polite thing to say when someone tells you about a tragedy long after it happened?
-- Words Fail Me
Dear Words: Say, "I'm so sorry for your loss," and let your friend decide whether to discuss it further. In other words, let her take the lead.